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Shane Hurlbut's Lens Diffusion That Works on Any Camera, Including DSLRs: Women's Stockings

05.26.12 @ 6:10PM Tags : , , , ,

I’ve heard a lot of stories about different materials being used for lens diffusion (including petroleum jelly, better known as Vaseline, being smeared on the lens), but never one this ingenious and cheap — and it actually seems to work very well. Shane Hurlbut is incredibly forthcoming with his experiences and advice, and this time he’s talking about a particular way of diffusing a lens that uses women’s stockings over the rear element. This softens the image just a bit, but mainly it gives a dreamy glow to the highlights and blown out areas of the image. He’s done a video showing the before and after with some Arri Master Primes and a Canon C300, but this effect will work on literally any removable lens camera system, from DSLRs to RED Epics.

Shane Hurlbut Fogal Net Test:

Below is a photo showing the comparison between the stocking on, and off, the lens:

Here is the look in action on one of Shane’s first films, The Rat Pack:


There’s no question it’s an interesting effect, and the fact that it’s a cheap solution makes it even more enticing to try. The soft glow that comes from using the stocking is technically imperfect, but that’s the idea, technical perfection does not always allow for the best image — just like using some older lenses can give you an interesting look. If you’re using still photo lenses instead of expensive PL lenses, it seems like the effect will work much better if the stocking is right on the element, so if the rear element is recessed for any reason, it might be tough to safely get the stocking onto your lens.

Back in the day, a Director of Photography rarely used a camera without some sort of filter over the lens, whether for creative effect or proper exposure. These days, with the ability to do a tremendous amount of post-processing, that technique is falling out of favor with digital cameras. If you’ve got a specific look that you want to achieve, even with digital technology, it’s still helpful to get as much of that look on-set as possible.

[via Hurlblog - Hurlbut Visuals]

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  • Cool, but this is not a new effect. DP Oswald Morris did this in 1971 in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’.

    (http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/12748%7C0/Fiddler-on-the-Roof.html)

    I agree that the technically perfect image does not always mean the best. Sometimes to convey the feeling you want, it’s better to add some imperfections to it. I think it’s great though to see what people have done to get the look they want.

  • Oh by the way, Joe. I’ve really been enjoying your posts (as well as all the new writers). Keep up the good work! :)

    • Thanks – I appreciate it. I had never personally heard of it being used before – but it honestly doesn’t surprise me that someone else has taken advantage of it on a big feature.

  • Rev. Benjamin on 05.26.12 @ 6:28PM

    “If you’ve got a specific look that you want to achieve, even with digital technology, it’s still helpful to get as much of that look on-set as possible.”

    When speaking with regard to stylized filtering/coloring/painting, I couldn’t disagree more. Not saying the looks above aren’t interesting, but as you know, you can simulate many looks in post without being locked to one style. For example, on first glance the image to the left is sorta warmer. Then you look again and notice the light is sorta weird rainbow-y on her left shoulder. That’d bother me, and it doesn’t have to be there/could have been added in or simulated. I also acknowledge I’m most post-oriented than most camera purists, though… I just think if the technology allows for choices, non-destructively, why not take them?

    • Well, if you’ve taken the time to test the effect and you know what it will look like, I see no reason not to get it while shooting. Anything that requires you to do something extra in post will require more time and money – the more of that you can save the better. If you’re hired for a project, one of the easiest ways to make sure you get what you want is to shoot so that the look can’t be changed in post. I know what you’re saying, but there are some looks that are just difficult to replicate with the same level of imperfection – that’s what makes them interesting. Digital effects and post-production many times can be too perfect. It all comes down to individual projects – what works for one may not work for another. I’m sure Shane Hurlbut would agree with that.

      • Rev. Benjamin on 05.28.12 @ 2:50AM

        That’s true… more in post requires more time/money. But re-shooting/re-angling/re-lighting due to errant flares or the look being funky could also be costly, as is the time to perfect your nylons on your lenses/test/etc. I just can’t see myself doing something like that if I were cinematographer, and if I were working with one as director who did it… well, I guess I’d just look at hm funny, but go along with it till I felt things were too “destructive” : ). It’s still an interesting look, and though it may be film school 101, I hadn’t heard of it so I found it worth the read.

        • Yeah I just think different projects can have different workflows. I think the Rat Pack movie is a good example of what an effect looks like when it’s shot that way rather than done in post – there’s something about the look that allows for mistakes like errant flares. But it’s definitely a conversation the Director and DP should have before shooting anything – and definitely the Effects People/Colorist, to know what something may cost whether it’s done on set or in post.

    • The less you do on-set, the less of the final image is actually “yours”.

      Determining these looks in post takes the power from the DP and puts them in the hands of any number of bureaucratic hierarchies. But when the look is tested, fine-tuned, then executed effectively on set, that look cannot be removed. And a DP’s job is to establish how a film looks and execute that look.

    • I agree with you 100%. Since I do my own post, I’d rather have the cleanest, even flattest, images when I shoot and do all filtering in post. Also, I think talking about post filtering as not being “imperfect” enough is untrue. There are many ways, in After Effects for example, to do “imperfect” filtering simulation. It just takes the skills to do the magic, just like a skilled DOP uses to achieve his magic on set. I have nothing against the old school way of doing things, but being stuck with a baked-in look that I can’t undo in post, if I decide to change my mind, is something I truly despise.

      • This, to me, is lazy cinematography.

        • It’s leaving your options open, not being lazy.

          I do the same I shoot flat to be able to work in post.

          But my composition and lighting techniques are still mine.
          And there’s nothing lazy about that.

        • What you’re saying is that cinematography ends on set, if you’re considering such an approach “lazy”. I would call it smart. So unless you know upfront what look you’re after, having the ability to massage pixels in post is far smarter than having just one option only…

          • I feel its important for a director, and DP to make a decision. The point of film making is a well thought out story, and execution. The look should be pre selected, tested, and your wardrobe, art direction, makeup and lens/camera choice should be squared away before the first frame is shot. Saying i’ll take care of it later, to me, says indecision. Its hard to make good choices when you dont actually make them when it count.

            My opinion. Nothing personal.

      • Daniel Mimura on 06.4.12 @ 4:54PM

        I usually go for softening in post…but it does not look the same. Particularly with the flares in this article…the way the flares creep beyond the light over her left shoulder…if you moved the camera in any way, , it would have an affect that cannot (easily) be done in post. It’s a very different feel.

        On Fintchers Girl w/ The Dragon Tattoo, he told a story on the commentary about seeing a lens flare from a bulb that was on camrera, so they put a dot on the hotspot with the idea of adding in a different lightbulb element later, so they could remove the flare the light was giving it…and then they went ahead and decided to add the flares back in after all, mimicking what they had gone through the trouble of removing in the first place.

    • I definitely fall in line with the logic behind using in-camera effects in this case. As others have mentioned, if you’re dealing with an actual production where the DP will likely lose a lot of control over the image in post, it’s a huge advantage to shoot this in-camera. Moreover, as you establish yourself as a filmmakers and can articulate why you’d use a technique like this, not just be able to execute it, you’ll not only be lending craft and creativity to the position of true DP, but you’ll demonstrate that there’s an actual creative thought process involved. I think the “what if we change our mind” mentality is lazy as hell in the same way that mediocre movies will often get a “director’s cut” finale or alternative ending. The only reason those exist half the time is because some producer wanted to test one ending versus another with audiences, or frankly because a weak plot and indecision factored into the final product.

      Laslty, I have to say that the “make it pretty in post, add all the styling in post” school is quite lazy/wasteful in a lot of ways, and while it can make sense for someone shooting on their own, the sad fact is that essentially 30 mins of camera prep and maybe an hour of testing, is a helluva lot cheaper than having someone make this look happen in After Effects and then render it out and wait for that to happen too. Even on a blazing system adding all these chromatic abbreviations and things, if you can even recreate them well, will take a LOT of time to render on any project of substantial length. The realization that time is money is something that comes with actually producing on a timeline, and with a budget, and I know a lot of people don’t/won’t get that.

    • I think a polarizer and variable ND are the only filters i would put in front of my lense. Just for the plain reason they are the only things i cannot add better in post; everything else you can do it afterwards without limiting to the filmed footage. Just like you do with colors, or with audio: always shoot as neutral as possible (thinking and lighting as you want your finish, but as ‘neutral’ as possible’

  • Thanks for posting. It’s not an effect that I would use myself, as I feel it makes it look too much like an episode of NCIS, but I like that it’s cheap and easy to do.

  • This effect predates even 1971 as someone above mentioned. This is pulled straight out of the playbook of the early days of Hollywood filmmaking circa the silent period. It was usually used on actresses to soften their features. Good to see that people are still utilizing old techniques rather than relying on computers to do everything.

  • Stretch the stocking over the rear element and glue it in with clear nail polish. Be very careful! While the net is drying hold it in place with a small rubberband, like the ones orthodontists use for braces. Then trim the excess off.

    Silk stockings are the way to go, and the now unavailable Dior #10′s were the best.
    The closest thing you can get are Fogal silk stockings. You can use black, white, or tan all with different looks. You can also use stockings in front of the lens if you have a mattebox and an open filter holder to glue it into. The effect will be less pronounced and you will have to take great care so that no light hits the net.

  • its a lot more fun with the stockings off imho.

  • why not simply use a 5d mkIII to get a soft image?

    • yeah,why they take a risk to remove the anti-aliasing filter to get a little bit sharpness, and make it soft again.

    • They’re completely different types of “soft.” It’s sort of like asking “Why use film grain when you can have stripey sensor artifacts instead?”

  • For in-front-of-the-lens use, not only did they use silk net, they also used fine lace. In the Black & White era, every DP had a box full of 2×2 nets and lace (also gels, cameras had a filter slot behind the lens and in-front of the shutter).

    They also used a Mitchell variable diffuser, that used two wedges of diffusion glass. The wedges could be moved in-and-out to increase or decrease the softness of focus. If they had a close-up of a woman, than panned to a male actor they would decrease the diffusion. The 1st AC had to both pull focus and vary the diffusion on the pan.

  • My uncle who was a documentary film maker over in china in the 80s said his chinese crew once made a scrim out of horse hair ahhaha

  • D.K.McPherson on 05.27.12 @ 5:16AM

    My ear hurts, the blond next door refused to give me her tights.

  • A little confused about one thing: In the with and without the net picture, the image on the left (with the net) seems to have a sharper background. Can anyone explain that?

    • The spaces between the threads of silk (or nylon) are, essentially, tiny apertures. If the threads were further apart, the background would be more out of focus but, the softening effect would be diminished. Closer together, softer but, background sharper.

  • I have a bunch of Tiffen 138mm rounds with fish net in them. nice filters.

    behind the lens filtering is different than front of the lens. the advantage of back of the lens is that its a consistent look with zoom lenses. in front of the lens diffusion with nets changes its look depending on focal length and even iris…. and this is so old school. I remember using snot tape ( weather stripping tape of sorts ) on canon zoom on a BVW 400 :)

  • There’s a good example on this by Michel Gondry on “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” DVD extras and other fabrics and camera tricks.

  • A true cinematographer will always have a conviction about what the ‘look’ should be long before light hits the film or sensor… never thinking, “we will figure it out in post”. It’s what separates the professional from the amateur and the brilliant from the mundane. The visionary from the hack. The director of photography from the camera operator.
    No post effect will ever look like one done ‘in camera’.

    • Thank you! Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    • You know, achieving a look in post doesn’t mean you’ve said “We’ll figure it out in post”. It’s totally legitimate to prefer doing things in-camera, but don’t presume that using post-production means you haven’t planned it beforehand.

      Does the planned use of CGI make one a hack? Does the planned use of colour correction prevent one from being a visionary? Following from that, does it really reduce a DP to a mere “camera operator” if the decision is made to add diffusion in some way other than in-camera? I think you’re heavily oversimplifying. You choose the tools based on the situation. Discarding any available tools out-of-hand is shortsighted to say the least.

      • Daniel Mimura on 06.4.12 @ 5:19PM

        I don’t think any DP working today would be able to work without accepting & sometimes, oftentimes even liking digital post effects…but I stand by what dixter says 100%.

        It’s not the same thing. That’s even excluding the fact that you are putting your stamp on it in a way that post guys have less ability to mess up. When films looks are determined in post, it begins to lose the mark of the artist. Lots of films are looking more and more genericized b/c the look isn’t baked in by the DP.

        A similar comparison between using silks vs post-only effects is the difference between doing bleach by pass on your negative vs doing an ENR (variable level of bleach bypass) to the internegative or release prints…one is total commitment from the outset with no going back, and the other can change the look by degrees… Is this to say that Darius Khondji (Seven) is a better DP than Janus Kaminski (Private Ryan)? Of course not! But the techniques of the two lead to very different looks.

  • Can’t really call this Steve’s, it’s been around for quite a while and quite common. The most used were Dior silk or Chanel Silk no.6 (not sure if thats the right one). No one makes them with silk anymore :/

  • MadMonkFish on 05.27.12 @ 2:50PM

    The stocking technique is very old and used to be part of old school DP tricks you’d pick up by working on set (alongside vasoline and grease on clear filters for dreamy effects etc).

    First time I used it was on a promo shoot for an aging female UK soap actress in 1989… she looked so bad (old and craggy) in CU, that we had to search around… it was an overnight shoot (wrapping at 7:00am) so we didn’t have access to anything. We were shooting in Granada Studios tours, so there were plenty of mannequins around – and we pulled off an antique 40′s silk stocking from one of them

    It worked perfectly and gave nice old style feel… funny that the shoot was SD/PAL on BetacamSP… all you new HD kids would gasp at the the low res quality we used to use LOL :)

    Funny thing is, we were concerned we might offend the actress with the stocking. So, as Director, I said to my DP I’d take the flak if she got angry. She didn’t and just smiled… with a familiar grin – saying that she’d seen this used back when she started in the biz back in the late 40′s and early 50′s. So I had my get out of jail free card.

    Funny thing is seeing how a lot of people haven’t heard of this technique… I’d have thought this would be 101 stuff at Film School nowadays?

  • JD Holloway on 05.27.12 @ 4:52PM

    Old school stuff for sure. Learned this from an old school DP (Bruce Surtees, son of Robert Surtees) when I started in the 90′s (The REALLY old school DPs have the best stories BTW). Notice the effect on the depth of field. Looks like a-sort-of diffraction micro-lensing effect. I don’t love the rainbow halation, but I’d love to experiment with this in black and white. Works great for the vintage Dean Martin bit.

  • This guy tried a similar tech but used a screen door as a filter:

    http://tinyurl.com/cqg5kdq

  • Oh yes we use women stocking since the 70′s… white and black, white is more dreamy, black it’s just soft…

  • This should not be a new technique to anyone who has ever studied film or is trying to make them.
    Also taking advice from a DP who is responsible for moving lights during emotional scenes and setting off star actors is utterly ridiculous. Makes me question the legitimacy of this site.

    • Well I studied film, and honestly with my brain full of knowledge I don’t remember hearing this. It’s certainly possible it was said, but I shared it because it seemed interesting and Shane had done a whole post about it. A Director of Photography in the ASC is someone I’m going to listen to, regardless of situations taken completely out of context. If you can’t appreciate free information and knowledge from a working professional (at the highest level possible), the legitimacy of this site is the least of your worries.

      • Rev. Benjamin on 05.28.12 @ 2:46AM

        Hahaha this might be the trolliest comment I’ve seen on NFS yet.

        • LOL. Really? The Terminator Salvation Christian Bale tirade is going to discredit anything Shane’s got to say? I mean come on, even if the guy farted in the middle of the take I seriously doubt Christian Bale is a one-take kind of guy. A more reasonably likely situation is that Shane did fuck up, apologized, and Christian Bale had a man-tantrum. The dude needs to crawl out from up his own ass anyways; I mean did you HEAR how he delivered lines in the last Batman movie? Way to chew up the scenery.

          At the end of the day he was a brat, and shit happens. Move on. Even if Shane Hurlbut only had a string of B movies and tv shows, maybe Toxic Avenger to his name, he’d STILL be qualified to give advice to likely a large portion of the NFS/HurlbutVisuals audience.

    • Daniel Mimura on 06.4.12 @ 5:33PM

      What??? I take hearing the way he reacted to Bale as a perfect example of acting like a professional! I personally would have a hard time being so cool and not giving it right back, even at the cost of my job—no one deserves to be treated like that on set. That is the mark of a consummate professional. I’m a hot headed kind of person, and working for a couple DP’s that can always remain poised in the most adverse conditions has tamed me and tempered and humbled me a bit. Hurlbut is clearly one of these DP’s.

      Also, thinking about that argument (well, argument is the wrong word because it was one sided—let’s call it a rant), and the fact that the cops had been called on Bale by his wife or mom or whatever just a couple days before, combined with the way he had suddenly gone from super-skinny (I forgot if it was The Machinist or that Werner Herzog Vietnam prison camp film), to looking like hulk hogan….it was totally ‘roid rage, not Hurlbut, you know…doing his job!

  • Its really hard for me to take a guy that uses all iterations of the word “serendipity” so loosely seriously. AmIrite? c’mon

  • This article misses a major point. Although great advice for softening the image, it ignores the simple fact that you are stuck with this image. On a feature film the last thing you want is “stuck”. This technique was developed a while back when post softening was not an option. Today, 2012, there are many options to soften, from low budget, magic bullet, to high end, Autodesk Flame. We live in a digital age. Shane, come join us.

    • Nobody has ignored anything, Oden. Did you read any of the other posts before you posted yours? You call it stuck. Cinematographers call it conviction. Conviction in an image that no digital post trick will ever produce. You’re right, we live in a digital age but, I, for one, will do everything I can to keep it from looking that way. If you can’t make a decision about the look of your film before you shoot it, maybe you shouldn’t be shooting it, at all.

      • Daniel Mimura on 06.6.12 @ 4:12PM

        Janusz Kaminski sums his feelings about post vs on set in recent issue of AC (Jan 2012, about War Horse):

        I do not create the look of the movie in the DI, just as Steven (Spielberg) does not create the movie in the editing room.

        • Joe Marine on 06.6.12 @ 4:27PM

          That philosophy is one of the reasons The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is such a beautiful film. Literally everything was done in-camera – lots of stuff that just wouldn’t have the same feel if done in post.

          • Daniel Mimura on 06.7.12 @ 2:56PM

            I haven’t seen it, but I just added it to my queue. Kominski shot it so I should check it out. A couple years before Shindler’s List, I saw Cool as Ice, the Vanilla Ice movie and even though my friends and I saw that movie as a joke, I was thinking, you know, the cinematography was actually pretty amazing. Spielberg saw some other low budget TV movie he shot in the same time period and the rest is history.

            • Joe Marine on 06.7.12 @ 3:02PM

              Cool as Ice is an abomination – but you’re right, thanks to Janusz, it actually looks good. That also reminds me of Gigli, which is also an abomination, but was shot by Robert Elswit. Who knew he’d go on to win an Academy Award? It’s a good lesson that even the great ones have to take jobs when they are just starting out or when they need the money.

  • It’s interesting how this has raised so much discussion of what’s wrong or right to do.
    I think for personal projects, if one wants to achieve that transistor/tube JC Penney Mannequin bell bottomed and otherwise moody/atmospheric look by putting a pair of panty hose across the lens rather than degrade the picture integrity with color correction/gamma adjustment, one SHOULD do just that with no remorse.
    It’s a matter of choice. I like grapefruit juice. It benefits my energy level. Some will say Pomenagrate is the more effective elixir for morning gumption. No it isn’t, it’s grapefruit! lol ;

  • No one should be knocking this article. After all, the name of the site is “no film school”. Granted, Shane wasn’t the first to use it but that doesn’t mean that it renders the information useless.

    For anyone who has a problem because they’re so good at what they do why are they even frequenting this site in the first place?

  • Hey Mike C… good call.

  • Larry Vaughn on 05.31.12 @ 3:24PM

    Not exactly Shane’s idea, photo techniques tend to be recycled over the years. Diffusion techniques have been around since the beginning of portraiture.

  • Monty Wentzel on 05.31.12 @ 3:32PM

    I would like to hear some details on mounting this on the rear element of the lens. We used to do this over the front of the lens and a rubber band 35 years ago. I liked the look then and like it in the comparison you did. Without it made me see a strong video look, which I don’t like.

    Tell me how to do it….

    • Shane explains it on his blog. You can check it out by clicking the link at the bottom of the article.

  • Used this method back in the seventies. Black stockings work great.

  • “Black stockings work great.”…particularly after being well used on a Saturday night…

  • dude, old news, we did this 20 years ago in hollywood and on photoshoots as told to us by the really old guys.

  • I think this was mentioned in John Alton’s 1949 book, Painting With Light. Even then, it was an old technique.

  • “Thats old news” So what? I din’t knew about it! Its new to me! Go read the next article.

  • I tried this with different colors, I like it. It will be perfect for an up coming project.

  • was using it on video to give it a more “film look” 20 years ago, Dior where the best…

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